Suu Kyi Hits the Road

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Suu Kyi Hits the Road

Despite warnings from officials, Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi has started a tour of the country. Is she safe?

Ignoring warnings from the authorities, Burma’s pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has taken to the road and travelled outside of Rangoon for the first time since she was released from house arrest late last year.

If her attitude disappointed the government, then they would hardly have been impressed by the thousands who the lined rural streets of Bago, about 80 kilometres north of her home, and chanted ‘mother’ as she opened a library. Her three-car convoy moved on to nearby Tha Nat Pin.

The Junta had warned in June that any political tours conducted by the Nobel Laureate could result in chaos, riots and violence. In 2003, a similar convoy was attacked and several people killed in an attack linked to the previous military government.

That incident also led to Suu Kyi’s last period of house arrest, of seven years. But this is Burma, and the 66-year-old was resolved to maintain her call for peace and unity in a trip described by her own office as political.

‘I know what the people want and I am trying my best to fulfil the wishes of the people…however I don’t want to give false hope,’ she said in Tha Nat Pin.

A week earlier, the veteran campaigner was equally resolved in testing the patience of a belligerent leadership that was responsible for her spending most of the last two decades in detention. On August 8, she attended a ceremony honouring the victims of the failed 1988 uprising against military rule – known as the 8.8.88 uprising – when about 3,000 people died. It also marked Suu Kyi’s emergence in her country’s pro-democracy movement.

Two years later, Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won at the ballot box in a landslide electoral victory. However, she was never allowed to take power. Now, there’s growing momentum among Western countries and NGOs calling on the United Nations to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of human rights abuses by the junta.

Despite this, Suu Kyi is understood to be holding her own talks with particular government ministers, and her latest ride into the countryside seemed at least to go off without a hitch.

As such, all the indications are that a genuine thaw of sorts is now underway between Suu Kyi and the military-backed government, which seems intent on seeking a sort of international legitimacy. And that could well be in the best interests of the Burmese people.